The Rays were back in action this weekend, as they opened in front of an excited home crowd at Tropicana Field to take on the Detroit Tigers on opening weekend. The Rays went into this series, and 2023, generally looking like a much more well-rounded and balanced offense. And for a team that needed to address that area more than anything after the disastrous hitting meltdown in the Wild Card series, it’s surprising to see it improved without any real moves made.
The return of Wander Franco and Brandon Lowe, two of the most potent bats in the lineup, gives the offense a massive upside. Both of them have near-superstar-level bats and with both of them primed to be healthy and given everyday playing time, they should flourish. Also included is the burgeoning star that’s Jose Siri. Siri looks ready to breakout with a full year in center, as his glove, speed, and sneaky pop give flashes of fellow AL East center fielder Cedric Mullins. Throw all this together with one of the most underrated bats in baseball Yandy Diaz and international sensation Randy Arozarena, and suddenly this lineup looks like it can match up, platoon, and mash its way to consistent winning.
So, in the first series of the new year, the Rays addressed these questions concerning the lineup by casually putting up a whopping 21-3 combined series score in a decisive sweep that showcased the weapons Tampa Bay will utilize to try to capture the AL East.
This was truly an impressive show of force from the Rays that featured a revamped offense that had constant energy and life to it, a far cry from last year’s lackluster hitting. Franco looked the most impressive by far, as the young phenom who we all say “just needs to stay healthy” certainly looked very healthy, as he crushed his way to a .636/.692/1.874 starting slash line with three doubles and a homer. His generational talent to recognize hittable pitches and set himself up in the best counts possible shone through as it helped him to a torrid start through his first eleven at-bats.
Look for Franco to keep it up, because while it is very early into this season and Franco’s career, he already looks like the centerpiece of this offense that everything else will revolve around.
Other big names like Diaz and Arozarena are already getting their early reps in too as both of them are off to fantastic starts with a homer a piece and more extra-base hits. Arozarena in particular looks to be scary. His star shone brightest in the recent WBC where he lit up the stage with his timely hitting, insane defensive plays, and of course the swagger he pulls everything off with. This newly energized Arozarena has already shown he can keep it going, and with his international superstardom and more consistent hitting, Randy can find himself soon as a face of baseball.
Meanwhile, the pitching is simply elite. The idea of McClanahan, Glasnow, Eflin, Rasmussen, and Springs all pitching in one rotation has had fans foaming at the mouth since it was assembled. Glasnow hit the IL with a minor oblique injury that’ll keep him out for a month, but I don’t think the Rays will be needing to rush him back after watching the pitching on display this weekend. The trio of McClanahan, Eflin, and Springs put up video game-like numbers in their season debuts, with none of them allowing more than one run in any of their starts.
Springs in particular looked disgusting. The Jeffrey Springs breakout was well known by the Rays faithful last year, but with his talent level constantly rising due to his trademark invisible seeming fastballs and changeups, his stardom is starting to take to the national level. And with a NO HIT performance in six innings with twelve strikeouts, Springs may have just unlocked the most elite form of his life.
Times are exciting right now in Tampa Bay. There’s a sense of renewed optimism after last year’s crushing playoff exit because of how cohesive and dangerous this team can be when everything goes as planned. Last year’s rookies Walls, Paredes, and Josh Lowe have had time to get more settled in and it certainly seems like they are. Walls has a revamped swing that’ll complement beautifully with his amazing defense. Paredes has a power stroke that has the potential for a 30-homer season. And meanwhile, Josh Lowe looks much more comfortable at the plate, as he’s not chasing high heat anymore and can adjust to major-league fastballs. Throw this together with how exciting the Rays’ core players have been performing thus far, and you couldn’t ask for a better start to a new year.
The Rays will travel to Washington this coming week for a three-game set with the Nats as well as a three-game set with the Oakland A’s. Every game counts in a division as hard in the AL East, and with matchups against two bottom-dweller teams in Oakland and Washington, these games are crucial to win.
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